Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle

By Joey Atkinson

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Name & Description

The Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle is the common name, Lepidochelys kempii is the scientific name, and it has no nickname, but they are sometimes simply referred to as Kemp's Ridleys.

The Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle is a reptile with gray-ish green on its top and shell, and usually has a cream or pale yellow under belly and shell. These turtles usually weigh 100lbs, and measure 24-28 inches in length, making them the smallest marine turtle in the world. Their carapace contains 5 "scutes" which are shown in the photo above. They usually have 1 claw on each front flipper, and 1 or 2 on each back flipper. Kemp's Ridley sea turtles are omnivores, and feed on crabs, fish, jellyfish, and mollusks. Some say the life span of the Kemp's Ridley is "unknown" but some scientists estimate it's life span to be about 50 years, which is quite a long time. Kemp's Ridley turtles breed in a process known as "arribada nesting" in which large groups of them come ashore and form nests, lay eggs, then return to the ocean. Scientists are not actually sure what causes the phenomenon, but they predict it is caused from wind patterns, pheromones from females, or even lunar cycles. During arriba nesting, females lay 2-3 clutches of 60-100 eggs within the months of April to July annually.

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Kemp's Ridley sea turtles primarily live along the eastern coast of the United States ranging from New England areas, down to Florida, as well as throughout the gulf of Mexico. Out of all marine turtles, Kemp's Ridleys have the most restricted breeding range because 95% of them migrate to breed in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico. However, some strange occurrences of them breeding in the Mediterranean have occurred. They help balance an ecosystem and bring biodiversity, as well as provide habitat for algae and barnacles on the back of their shell. Kemp's Ridleys do not hibernate, and their biggest predators are sharks, and other large fish. However in opinion their biggest predator are humans since humans are the reason Kemp's Ridleys are critically endangered.
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The Problems

Originally, there was never a problem with the Kemps' Ridley population, and it flourished. But in 1947, a documentary film was made showing 42,000 turtles breeding in a single day. Subsequently, local residents began harvesting eggs as a delicacy, and roughly 60-80% of the eggs were harvested between the 1940s-1960s. Since Kemp's Ridleys are R-Strategists, they had no way to protect their eggs, and as a result, the population was devastated. The population problems only worsened in the 1980s when shrimp trawling became very popular and the turtles were often killed by accident and sometimes even on purpose. The black market started slaughtering them, or using already murdered ones from shrimp trawling, for drums and jewelry made from their rare and luxurious shells. Their meat was also sold through the black market. However, it became extremely illegal because of how endangered they were. More recently however, the Great BP oil spill I 2012 filled the Gulf of Mexico with 4.9 million barrels of crude oil, making it largest oil spill ever recorded. It wasn't until the spilt oil was burned killing even more Kemp's Ridleys that swim just below the surface, that humans realized we were devastating their population from our actions. Kemp's Ridleys are now at the peak of extinction as a result, and on top of all those problems, the biggest problem of all, lies in genetics, as a result from all the other conflicts. With dwindling numbers of the population, there's become a much higher rate of inbreeding which could result in extinction all together.
1947 Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle Nesting
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Kemp's Ridleys are now protected by national laws, international treaties as well as agreements. Under CITES in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna , international trading of sea turtles is prohibited, and illegal, so that any actions associated with the black market come with punishments. Sea turtles are also protected under Annex II of SPAW which states that areas are protected specially for them. On an international level, sea turtle are protected under IAC which is the only international treaty specifically for marine turtles. The IAC describes ways of conservation and protection of all marine turtles though. Beaches in Mexico have been set aside and protected for the turtles to breed annually.

Works Cited

"Endangered Species Project." Endangered Species Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.

"Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles, Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle Pictures, Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle Facts - National Geographic." National Geographic. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

"Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles." Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Mar. 2015.